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Anti-Dühring Part 10:Chapter 7: PHILOSOPHY OF NATURE. THE ORGANIC WORLD

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The book is here.

“In spite of all gradualness, the transition from one form of motion to another always remains a leap, a decisive change.”

Nothing to add; quoted because I think it’s worth bearing in mind.

“And just as the law of wages has maintained its validity even after the Malthusian arguments on which Ricardo based it have long been consigned to oblivion, so likewise the struggle for existence can take place in nature, even without any Malthusian interpretation.”

I just like this. Dare I apply this method to art? Suppose a critic were to claim that Edgar Rice Burroughs was a bad writer (a subject I’m not prepared to discuss). Roger Zelazny based his brilliant story “A Rose for Eccelesiastes” on Burroughs work; therefore, is this critic obliged to hate the Zelazny story? Not so much. The same is true in theories of the sciences: that Darwin was inspired by the work of Malthus neither validates Malthus nor invalidates Darwin.

It is a real pleasure to read Engels vehement defense of Darwin just for it’s own sake; that’s one of the things I love about this book.

Dühring berates Darwin for not knowing what causes alterations in separate individuals. He does not, however, have anything to offer on the subject himself. Engels: “To Darwin it was of less immediate importance to discover these causes– which up to the present are in part absolutely unknown, and in part can only be stated in quite general terms — than to find a rational form in which their effects become fixed,acquire permanent significance.”

Another example of working with a science in its earliest stages.

“It is true that in doing this Darwin attributed to his discovery too wide a field of action, made it the sole agent in the alteration of species. . . once again, the man who gave the impetus to investigate how exactly these transformations and differences arise is no other than Darwin.”

“…it has not yet succeeded even in producing simple protoplasm or other albuminous bodies [ie, life-SB] out of chemical elements….” What I love about this sentence is the word “yet.” In 1876, Engels was convinced that the creation of life in a laboratory was simply a matter of time.

“… the colossal impetus which natural science owes to the driving force of the Darwinian theory….”

“The theory of evolution itself is however still in a very early stage, and it therefore cannot be doubted that further research will greatly modify our present conceptions, including strictly Darwinian ones, of the process of the evolution of species.”

 

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

11 Comments

  1. “Dare I apply this method to art? Suppose a critic were to claim that Edgar Rice Burroughs was a bad writer (a subject I’m not prepared to discuss). Roger Zelazny based his brilliant story “A Rose for Eccelesiastes” on Burroughs work; therefore, is this critic obliged to hate the Zelazny story? Not so much.”

    This makes all the sense in the world. I’ve read a short story that I loved based on a Zelazny novel I had some issues with.

    Haven’t finished the chapter yet, just ducking in.

  2. skzb

    I see what you did there. 🙂

  3. I cheated and read Chapter 8 as well.

    I would be rather more impressed with Engels if he had actually managed to attribute the work of Wallace to Wallace; admittedly Engels was merely displaying the typical bourgeois morality of the time, but someone writing a book which purports to be rectifying the mistakes of others might be expected to make an effort to be accurate in portraying the science.

    It’s Wallace’s centenary this year and the Natural History Museum has an exhibition in his honour…

  4. So today I realized that I had finished all of my weekly comic book intake *and* my Myke Cole popcorn book, so I loaded up the PDF you’re linking to on my phone and started in on Anti-Dühring. Then I was like, holy crap this PDF is unreadable on my phone, and found an epub, which is somewhat borked and full of scan artifacts, but passable. I am in the second introduction and never actually going to catch up, but I’m giving it a shot. So far I love the daylights out of Engels; about the only time he isn’t recognizably complaining about something that bugs the hell out of me too is when I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. So that’s fun.

    A thing that occurred to me in reading the second introduction is that it seems kinda like maybe the relatively recent culturally broad insistence on falsifiability as key to science amounts to the positioning of dialectic as just as important to science as Engels said it was, but without using his terminology, so as to slip it past the censors.

    But the actual reason I’m commenting is that Jen wanted me to post about the context I realized was the most recent place before this that I’d read mention of Haeckel, which is thus:

    “MOLECULE, noun. The ultimate, indivisible unit of matter. It is distinguished from the corpuscle, also the ultimate, indivisible unit of matter, by a closer resemblance to the atom, also the ultimate, indivisible unit of matter. Three great scientific theories of the structure of the universe are the molecular, the corpuscular and the atomic. A fourth affirms, with Haeckel, the condensation or precipitation of matter from ether — whose existence is proved by the condensation or precipitation. The present trend of scientific thought is toward the theory of ions. The ion differs from the molecule, the corpuscle and the atom in that it is an ion. A fifth theory is held by idiots, but it is doubtful if they know any more about the matter than the others.”

    This being of course the definition of “molecule” from Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary. So there we go.

  5. skzb

    “A thing that occurred to me in reading the second introduction is that it seems kinda like maybe the relatively recent culturally broad insistence on falsifiability as key to science amounts to the positioning of dialectic as just as important to science as Engels said it was, but without using his terminology, so as to slip it past the censors.”

    Um. Okay, now that really is an interesting thought. Give me about a year and I’ll get back to you.

    Oh, lord! About halfway through that, I remembered reading that in The Devil’s Dictionary and cracking up years and years ago. I love it so many times.

    Oh, and if you love Engels’ snark as much as Jen and I do, there is, somewhere, a delicious essay by Engels on pseudo-science. I read it once and loved it and haven’t managed to find it since.

  6. I don’t find much to say about this chapter. According to Engels Duhring made various mistakes and confusions. Engels had a solid basic understanding of Darwin’s thinking, and explained it.

    Some of Duhring’s criticism appear to be moral concerns. It’s evil to think about evolution because it involves things dying, or failing to reproduce. Malthus was evil, so any theory based on Malthus must also be evil.

    I’m not sure what to make of that. I like the idea of finding out how true ideas are, independent of how evil you have to be to think them.

  7. Could the essay by Engels on pseudo-science be Natural Science and the Spirit World, by any chance?

    It’s a fun essay in any case:

    Now it happens that I also saw this Mr. Spencer Hall in the winter of 1843-4 in Manchester. He was a very mediocre charlatan, who travelled the country under the patronage of some parsons and undertook magnetico-phrenological performances with a young girl in order to prove thereby the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and the incorrectness of the materialism that was being preached at that time by the Owenites in all big towns.

  8. skzb

    Ken: No, that isn’t the one I was thinking of, but thanks for the link. It was delightful.

  9. Ken

    Delightfully amusing yes, a contribution to scientific knowledge, no, quite the reverse; Engels, alas, failed to grasp that the plural of anecdote is anecdotes, and, even worse, allied himself with Darwin who had deliberately fudged his own data because he could not make his theory work without fudging the data.

    We can prove that because Darwin admitted it in his private papers; he denied the mass extinctions, notwithstanding the overwhelming geological record of the mass extinctions, because otherwise he couldn’t make natural selection work. Wallace’s formulation of natural selection worked perfectly adequately without him fudging the data, but then Wallace wasn’t an upper middle class Victorian with influential friends who perceived the usefulness of his theory when it came to reducing the wages of the working class, or throwing them into the workhouse.

    There can be no greater intellectual sin than fudging the data to arrive at the answer you want.

    In this particular instance the sin cost countless millions of lives because Darwin fixed his problem by claiming that every single species had been driven to extinction by the emergence of a superior species which had killed off its predecessors, and thus one of his cousins coined ‘survival of the fittest’ as the lead into Social Darwinism, and another launched eugenics.

    Sweet music to the ears of the industrialists and the land owners; after all, they were merely following the inexorable laws of science. Not so sweet to those on the receiving end…

  10. Things I had to look up: “chemism of albumen” (my best guess at interpreting this from old-timey-ese is something about bonding proteins to create life), teleology, Thomas Robert Malthus, “archegone of the moneron type” (I got as far as archegonium being a plant reproductive organ), thread of descent (figured out from context, yay me)

    So, right away in this chapter we learn that Dühring, in spite of mastering the beginning of all existence, can’t manage anything about the beginning of life. Considering his insistence that his theories encompass everything, that kind of makes him a dick, doesn’t it?

    “But nature not only knows why she does one thing or another; she has not only to perform the duties of a housemaid, she not only possesses subtlety, in itself a pretty good accomplishment in subjective conscious thought; she has also a will.” – So Hegel linked biological necessity with purpose, and Dühring turned that into self-aware nature, kinda like taking a good novel and putting googly eyes on the cover. Dühring also levels accusations of poetry at Hegel, as though writing beautifully about science were a sin.

    The summary of natural selection is absolutely lovely.

    Dühring has several stupid arguments about Darwin’s work. He seems to dislike the term “struggle for existence” because struggle is too active a verb for plants and he doesn’t like thinking of nature as brutal. So we can mostly ignore those arguments as invalid.

    Darwin took note of alterations in separate individuals of a species and based his work from there, without learning the cause of the initial alterations. So the theories are incomplete, which doesn’t make them wrong, it just means we should keep working.

    Dühring says that describing adaptation as adaptation “must introduce a spiritistic confusion into the concepts” and then we get into another spat where all the science leads to god. The word ‘purpose’ is much abused. Furthermore, because Dühring is obsessed with uselessly taking things to a theoretical beginning, we have to talk about a primordial being which no one believes in.

    “The theory of evolution itself is however still in a very early stage, and it therefore cannot be doubted that further research will greatly modify our present conceptions, including strictly Darwinian ones, of the process of the evolution of species.” Just another note about how this is new science and continuing to improve our understanding is always good.

    The final paragraph of the chapter is nicely sarcastic, and I also like that.

  11. skzb

    Nothing to add to this; I’m going to move on to chapter 8.

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